Easy recipes for the newbie cook, the beginner in the kitchen, the nervous novice: we all had to start somewhere, and you can start right here.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Fish Head Stew – Economy Recipe

Fish Head Stew – Economy Recipe

There are so many reasons why I include this recipe for Fish Head Stew, even though I realise that the title alone may make some readers recoil in horror.  Stick with me though, and I’ll explain why Fish Head Stew, and the right kind of Economy Recipes are a good thing, whatever your budget.

First of all, though, let’s get one thing straight: I’m not asking you to go rootling around in bins for rotten old bits of fish that the cat wouldn’t look at.  We are going to use very fresh, perfectly good fish here; just some of the bits that would often be cut away and discarded.

Although the main thrust of The Guerilla Griller has always been to encourage new, inexperienced and nervous cooks into the kitchen, my secondary agenda is that good food need not, in fact most often should not, be expensive. 

This recipe is indeed all about buying (or saving, or reusing, or begging) the good cuts or bits of the fish (and the beast and the veg patch for that matter) that do not achieve premium prices at the market, but are none the worse for that – we are looking for the undiscovered gems, if you like; the perfectly good ingredients that would otherwise be thrown away, or at least sold very cheaply.

This recipe for Fish Head Stew works, and is delicious if you follow the ingredient list and method, but that’s not really the point.  By all means go to the fishmonger, or a fisherman friend if you have one, and see if they have a Conger head and tail, as I did.  If not, see if they have any other suitable large fish heads, or ask them to save them for you when next they are filleting or cutting steaks.  Or buy a nice whole fish or two for another recipe and keep the head(s) and tail(s) for this one.

And, forgive me for banging the drum one more time: it’s not even necessarily a fish recipe.  Use the same principles for anything else that may either be sold very cheaply or even thrown away but that with the right cooking could give you a good meal.

I used Conger Eel here, but you could use other large, meaty fish, preferably cut so there is a good “collar” or “shoulder” of meat.  As I know some of you will live in parts of the world where “large” could mean you couldn’t fit it into your car to get it home, let alone fit it into your pot, as a rough guide, I’m talking a head and neck around the size of a man’s clenched fist and wrist.  Rather than list species, any off-cut with a decent amount of meat left on will do – but do make sure to descale the fish if necessary.  As I have no idea what you’re going to use, timings are of course approximate.

The recipe feeds two, but multiply/adapt to your needs, and the size of the fish heads you have found.  There is not much meat (if any) on the part of the Conger tail that is usually off-cut, but it will add flavour to the stewing juices as they develop.

Fish Head Stew recipe: Ingredients

One or two Conger Eel Head(s) and Tail(s)
Two or three medium carrots, peeled and sliced into chunky rounds
One medium leek, cleaned and cut into rounds as carrots, discarding the toughest part of the green end
Four plump cloves of garlic, peeled but otherwise whole
Enough hot stock to cover the veg (fresh veg or fish stock if you can, but a dissolved cube or bouillon powder will do if that’s all you have)
A pinch or two of mixed dried herbs or fresh herbs of your choice
A small splash (about a tablespoon) of oil
Plenty of salt and freshly ground black pepper

Fish Head Stew recipe: Method

Heat the oil in a large pot and fry the prepared veg for a few minutes until they begin to take on a little colour, adding the garlic last so it doesn’t burn.  Add the stock, bring back to the boil, then reduce to a simmer.  Add the herbs, and stir well.  Place the fish head(s) and tail(s) onto the veg and cover the pan with a lid.  After ten minutes, turn the fish upside down.  The fish and the vegetables should be ready in another ten minutes.

Double-check that the flesh is cooked right through: if not, cook for a little longer.

When the fish is ready, you have the choice to plonk the head on the plate, surrounded by the veg and its juices, and hack away at it at the table with your knife and fork, which will be very primally satisfying, if a little messy.  You can be a little more refined and carve away the meat from the head on your chopping board.  Check all round the head for meaty bits; some fish have really worthwhile “cheeks” and other pockets of flesh that you don’t want to miss.

I hope you get over any squeamishness you may have about Fish Head Stew (it’s looking back at me!) and realise that it is simply a very cheap (even free) way of getting some very tasty fish onto your plate.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Salmon and Broccoli Bake Recipe

Salmon and Broccoli Bake Recipe

This Salmon and Broccoli Bake recipe is delicious and very easy, although the preparation takes a while, as you have to pre-cook the salmon and broccoli and make a cheese sauce.  The results are worth it, though, as you can do the prep and assemble the bake way ahead of time (even a day or two before) and then have it all ready to pop in the oven when you need it.

I have given the ingredients for one person, so just multiply as required.  Use any suitable oven-proof dish whether metal, heatproof glass or ceramic.

Fish can lose 10-20% of its raw weight when cooked, so take this into account when buying your ingredients.

You can use left-over cooked salmon for this recipe, or simply cube skinned and boned raw salmon, and poach in simmering water for five to ten minutes until cooked through.  To pre-cook the broccoli, cut into small bite-sized florets and put into boiling water for three to four minutes.  As soon as it is al dente (cooked, but still with a bite) run under the cold tap to preserve the colour and to stop any further cooking from residual heat.
Salmon and Broccoli Bake Recipe: Ingredients for one person – multiply as required

4oz/115g cooked salmon (see above) all skin and bone removed.
4oz/115g cooked, cold broccoli florets (see above)

For the Cheese Sauce:
half ounce/15g butter
half ounce/15g plain/general purpose flour
half pint/290ml milk
2-3oz/55-85g full flavour grated cheese (such as cheddar, gruyere, parmesan or a mixture) to taste
salt and white pepper to taste

To sprinkle on top before baking:
1-2oz/30-55g of dry breadcrumbs or pinhead oats
finely chopped fresh parsley – quantity to your taste
a little more grated cheese – quantity to your taste

Salmon and Broccoli Bake Recipe: Method

Cook salmon and broccoli as in introduction, or use leftovers.

To make the cheese sauce: (in-depth white sauce recipe and method here)
Either in a microwave, double boiler or heavy non-stick pan, melt the butter and flour together, and cook over a gentle heat for a couple of minutes, stirring occasionally until the butter and flour look almost dry and a little like breadcrumbs.  Add about a third of the milk, stir or whisk well to remove any lumps, and continue to cook for a few minutes longer.  When smooth, whisk in the rest of the milk, and continue to cook until thickened – this may take twenty minutes or longer, depending on your chosen method.

Remove from the heat, and add the grated cheese, stirring until it has melted into the sauce.  Add the pepper, and if necessary salt (cheese can be quite salty) and whisk well.

Break up the salmon a little (not too finely) and mix with the broccoli florets in your chosen baking dish.  Cover with the cheese sauce, leaving little islands of broccoli poking out if you are feeling artistic.  Sprinkle over the breadcrumbs/pinhead oats, a little more grated cheese to your taste (don’t swamp it) and a pinch or two of the chopped parsley.

You can now store this in the refrigerator for use in the next day or two, or cook right away.

Put in a medium oven 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for twenty five minutes or so.  Test the middle with a temperature probe or skewer to make sure it is thoroughly heated through and piping hot.  If you wish, place under a hot grill for a minute or two to brown the top.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

Bacon and Avocado Omelette Recipe

Bacon and Avocado Omelette Recipe

This Bacon and Avocado Omelette recipe is one of those great flavour and texture combinations that really work: we know how eggs and bacon compliment each other, and here the creamy avocado chunks add another dimension.  As usual, I’m going to emphasise the quality (and morality) issue – use free range eggs and proper dry-cured bacon from pigs that have been outside-reared.  If your grocer/butcher/supermarket can’t assure you of this, spend your money elsewhere.  Make sure the avocado is ripe, but not over-ripe.  You want it to (just) be able to hold its shape when you cut it into chunks and cook it.

How to prepare the avocado: cut down to the stone with a sharp knife, then run it around lengthways until you have “completed the circle” and can lever the avocado apart.  The stone will almost always remain attached to one half.  Gently cut a little way into the stone with your knife, and then you should be able to remove it with a twisting action.  Take care removing the stone from the knife; avocados are slippery. Now make six to eight cuts through the flesh right down to, but not through, the skin.  Make another six to eight cuts at ninety degrees to the first; you should now have a sort of diamond pattern.  Turn the skin inside out, and you will be able to easily remove the avocado chunks.  If you are not using them immediately, put in a bowl with some lemon juice to stop them turning brown.

Bacon and Avocado Omelette Recipe: Ingredients

Two rashers of your favourite bacon (I use unsmoked streaky) cut into dice or small strips.
Two to three free-range eggs, depending on their size and your appetite, beaten
Half an avocado, in small chunks as above
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A little oil
A little butter (optional)

Bacon and Avocado Omelette Recipe: Method

Heat a heavy based non-stick pan, and add a little oil.  Put in the bacon pieces, and cook for three to five minutes until the bacon fat is running and the pieces are turning golden brown.  Add the avocado pieces to the pan, and continue to cook for a minute or two, stirring as necessary – adding a little butter at this stage will help the colour and add even more richness.  Season the beaten egg with salt and pepper, then add the eggs to the pan.  Turn the eggs with a fork until the ingredients are well amalgamated.  When the omelette is firm enough, fold it in half.  If you like your omelettes very moist, turn out now onto a warmed plate and serve, otherwise continue to cook (flipping over after a minute or so) until it is done to your liking.

The Bacon and Avocado Omelette can be served as a breakfast, lunch or supper dish, with the accompaniments of your choice.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

Pan-Fried Courgette or Zucchini

Pan-Fried Courgette or Zucchini

I don’t know why we Brits call them courgettes while the rest of the world calls them zucchini, but there you are.  Either way, and by either name, I never used to be much of a fan; I found them bland and uninteresting.  Steamed or boiled, they are watery and insipid, and I only ever used them, reluctantly, as a kind of bulking vegetable, in pasta sauces and ratatouille.  And then I came found this method; cooked this way, they have become one of my favourite vegetables.  So, here’s how to cook the perfect pan-fried zucchini, or courgette.

The essence of the dish is to fry very slowly, so that much of the wateriness is cooked out, and so that the courgette/zucchini can absorb the buttery, garlicky flavours while gently developing golden, caramelized patches.

You will need a frying pan wide enough to accommodate all the courgette slices in one layer.

Pan-Fried Courgette or Zucchini: ingredients

Two or three Courgettes or Zucchini, unpeeled, sliced into rings about the thickness of a typical biscuit or cookie.
Enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pan, with some more in reserve.
Butter, a tablespoon or so
One to three cloves of garlic, depending on size and your own taste, peeled and crushed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
A tablespoon or so of finely chopped fresh herbs of your choice: tarragon, thyme or basil suggest themselves here.

Pan Fried Courgette or Zucchini: method

Put the pan onto a gentle heat, add the oil.  Once the oil has heated through, add the courgette/zucchini slices in one layer.  Turn from time to time, adding a little more oil if necessary, until the vegetable has begun to soften; this may take twenty minutes to half an hour.  Now add the butter, the garlic, the herbs and the salt and pepper.  Continue to cook for another ten to fifteen minutes until the courgette/zucchini is really soft and almost falling apart.  Juggle the heat if necessary so that golden, toasty, patches develop, but take care not to let the butter or garlic burn.

Serve as a side dish, or on toast, or cold as a dip.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Home-Made Meatballs with Sweetcorn Recipe

Home-Made Meatballs with Sweetcorn Recipe

I’ve given a home-made meatballs recipe before, with emphasis on the Greek/Turkish Kofte style.  This one is slightly different – more general, if you like, to be adapted to pretty much any kind of meat or fish you wish to use.  There were two inspirations for this post, the first involving a kind of “guilty pleasure” revisiting of a favourite store-cupboard standby of my youth, which then reminded me of the kitchen concoctions of an old friend, of which more below.

I love to cook: I wouldn’t waste my or your time with this blog if I didn’t.  However, I will admit that sometimes I am too busy, or just too lazy to cook “properly” and, like any normal human being, will turn to the take-away or convenience foods.  Not so long ago, I was on my way home.  It was late, and I was hungry, and the only food shop open was the little metro supermarket.  I walked round, fairly uninspired, until my eye fell on the tins of meatballs.  I used to love these as a kid, so I paid up, took them home, and had them on my plate ten minutes later.  Frankly, they weren’t very good, and I knew that I could do better.  One good thing came from the meal, though: I had no convenient veg other than a small tin of sweetcorn kernels.  I tipped these in with the meatballs, and, although the meatballs themselves were poor, the combination of flavour and texture was promising.

It was this late-night combination of tins that reminded me of my old friend Tim’s culinary exploits.  We were in a band together, and as he lived quite some distance away, he would often stay over at my place after rehearsals or gigs, and he always came prepared to feed himself – always with three random tins in his bag.  One would be some kind of meat, such as frankfurters, meatballs or corned beef; one would be beans of some kind, and the third usually small potatoes.  All would be tipped into a pan, heated until ready, then wolfed down.  We came to call it Timmie’s Bean Bake, and Tim himself got a new nickname as “The Kennomeat Kid” (for those not from the UK, Kennomeat was a well-known brand of tinned dog food).

I am pleased to say that I have generally long moved on from the days of eating out of tins, and these meatballs are much better than anything you can buy in a can.  They freeze well, so you can make up a big batch, and never need to open a tin again.

Meat-wise, you can use any meat (or fish) you like, and leftovers are fine.  However, just as with home-made burgers, I think it is a mistake to use meat that is too lean; a little fat helps to lubricate the meatballs, and to keep them flavoursome.  If you are using leaner meats such as chicken, turkey or rabbit, for example, then add around ten percent by quantity of minced/ground belly pork or streaky bacon.

Do season well with salt and pepper, and use whatever herbs you like.  You can use breadcrumbs or bread paste, as in the kofte recipe if you like, but I have omitted them here to give a firmer, denser, more “chewy” texture.

Nothing beats fresh corn straight off the cob, but I think that sweetcorn does work fairly well when canned or frozen, and is a useful store-cupboard staple.

Home-Made Meatballs with Sweetcorn Recipe: Ingredients

1lb/450g minced/ground meat – either raw, or leftover cooked meat
4oz/115g sweetcorn kernels, stripped from the cob, from a tin, or defrosted from frozen
1 small egg, beaten (you may not need all of it)
Finely chopped herbs to suit the meat and your own personal taste
Plenty of salt and pepper

A little plain/general purpose flour for dusting
A little oil for shallow frying

Home-Made Meatballs with Sweetcorn Recipe: Method

Using your hands, combine all the ingredients thoroughly in a big bowl – use just enough of the egg to bring it all together; you may not need it all.  Dust some flour onto your work surface, flour your hands, and divide the mix into around sixteen pieces, rolling them into walnut-sized balls.

Gently fry the meatballs, turning until golden brown and cooked through – ten to fifteen minutes.

They can be served in so many ways, either plain or with a sauce or gravy; in a sandwich, or with pasta, potatoes, rice, or with a salad.  These home made meatballs with sweetcorn are pretty good cold, too.